Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Walking Dead (video game, spoiler) review

*warning - this will be LONG*

    The Walking Dead is a very difficult game to review because you have to take the game in two different ways. The first way is on an individual level, which is that it is five separate short video games connected by a single narrative but capable of standing on their own. The second is taking the game as a whole, which shows how all of these individual episodes relate. Both methods have their appeals and, ironically, expose strengths and weaknesses which would otherwise not be readily apparent.

    Taken as a whole, The Walking Dead is a tragedy which has the courage to go places many zombie stories don't. Night of the Living Dead was one of the few stories to end on a complete downer as virtually all sequels and movies inspired by it tend to have at least a few survivors.

    The Walking Dead ends on a note of hope with the survival of Clementine but, virtually, the entire rest of the group is wiped out and the only two other survivors are ones we barely got to know. The protagonist, Lee, is the most distressing casualty as he dies handcuffed to a radiator either from being bitten or getting shot in the head by Clementine as an act of mercy.

    Usually, the protagonist dying in video games [censored] me off. It was irritating as hell in Fallout 3 before the Broken Steel expansion and doubly so with Mass Effect 3. The internet broke with the latter. Here, however, I can't think of an ending which would feel more authentic. The emotional journey and constant death wore my Lee down so that when he passed, it was because he didn't have enough juice to continue.

The tragedies just keep piling up.
    Watching my Lee Everett go from being an unrepentant criminal who claimed killing the Senator was "an accident" and was desperate for his freedom transform into a father-figure for Clen and the only sane man in the survivor's group was uplifting. Watching the group, which had become his family, deteriorate and gradually die off was heartbreaking.

    By the time Clementine is kidnapped, he's already one of the titular Walking Dead. He's only moving one foot forward at a time for Clem's sake. It's an astounding journey that wouldn't work as a single narrative but works very well with the Five Act structure. We get the Redemption of Lee Everett, the Rise of Lee Everett, and the Fall of Lee Everett all over again.

    I could sit here talking all about the game and its various decisions so I'll just hit some of the highlights:

    Episode One: The initial survival situation is a nice baptism by fire. The game always let's you get to know the characters before it kills them. The police officer transferring you to prison, Shawn Greene, and Doug (does anyone not save Carley?) are all killed in brutal ways but only after you see they're decent human beings. I didn't much care for the police officer, thinking he was patronizing, but I understood him.

    Doug I didn't care as much about as Carley but I think he and my Lee could have been friends. I think there were too many cameos in this episode, though, with Glenn being completely unnecessary. I thought it was hilarious he was thinking with his libido the entire time but it stretched credibility to have him, Hershel, and someone who was supposed to be Lilly from the comics. The ending was great, though, with the power turning off at the motel being both humorous as well as foreboding.

    Episode Two: My least favorite of the five missions, Episode Two is the lightest of the five episodes in my opinion. Despite the fact it deals with a pair of serial killer hillbilly cannibals, I can say that since I live in Kentucky and know some, the only people who die are Mark (who gets a form of posthumous revenge) and Larry who was an [censored].

    The episode is so over the top that it's hard to take seriously. It's fairly early in the apocalypse too so I had a bit of trouble believing the Saint John Brothers would have reverted to cannibalism so quickly, especially with the giant corn field outside. Despite this, Episode Two had some great moments. "Eat up, Larry" being something I wish I'd done. I didn't kill either of the brothers because my Lee was desperate to leave his past as a killer behind. He would fail.

Carley forgot she wasn't the only girl with a gun.
    Episode Three: The situation at the end of Episode One felt fairly stable and Episode Two didn't really interrupt that feeling but Episode Three makes it clear everything is coming to a head. This may surprise some people but I preferred Lilly to Carley and was hoping there would be a romance option for her. Yeah-yeah, I know, I forgot this wasn't that kind of story. Still, I liked Carley a lot and watching Lilly kill her was one of the most horrible moments I've had in gaming.

    My Lee took Lilly with her, knowing it was a crime of passion and desperately trying to put the pieces of their group back together despite the fact it was impossible. The death of Duck and Katjaa was expected by me from the start, since they were all Kenny had, but the way they died was horrible. I never expected Katjaa to commit suicide. Wow. Given the way Omid and Crista show up, I never quite warmed to them as they felt somewhat like replacement goldfish.

    Episode Four: This was one of the most emotionally intense episodes of the game as after Katjaa and Duck's death, the loss of Lilly, and the murder of Carley, I was starting to feel like one of the Walking Dead. The unceremonious way Chuck is killed, especially since it's a heroic sacrifice to save Clem, felt like an emotional misstep as he proved himself to be more likable than most of the cast in that moment by far. The character of Molly was a great addition to lighten the mood and I was saddened when she left.

More than half of these people are dead by the end.
    The city of Crawford, though, I felt was a misstep as I never quite "believed" the city in the same way I didn't quite believe the Saint John Brothers. Which is a shame because it seemed like a pretty sound concept. My Lee said he was Clem's father, which Vernon took to be an attempt to emotionally manipulate him--I'm not sure I agree. The ending, though, wow. I *KNEW* there was a Walker beneath the cardboard box! Why didn't you be more cautious, Lee!

    Episode Five: The ending of the game is really more of an epilogue to Chapter Four than a new adventure like the others. It's mostly chase sequences, zombie-slayings, and the occasional moment of people breaking down. I don't think Kenny died in this version as we never see the body and we see the Walkers moving to eat Ben's body. Still, it seems like a total party kill.

    The Stranger was both well-written as well as annoying. He's not a supervillain, just a guy with an ax to grind and nothing to live for but revenge. I think his conversation also should have been more effected by your choices, though, even if I understand he's just looking for someone to blame. Still, the ending was utterly heartbreaking. Telltale couldn't have ended The Walking Dead better. As much as I loved Lee, his death was appropriate and moves the game from really-really good to great.


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1 comment:

  1. My random thoughts:

    I really hate Ben. Ok, technically I don't hate the character himself (actually, I kind of like him), I hate the fact that a very good chunk of the plot in the second half of the game hinges entirely on him screwing up. His incredible bad luck and/or stupidity is arguably a greater threat than the actual antagonist.

    I liked the Lily-Kenny conflict, and I kind of wished they had drawn it out more. Unfortunately, the game decides to kill off Lily and Carley and ends that whole conflict.

    A general problem with the game is that it tends to kill off characters too indiscriminately. I mean, yeah that sounds like I'm complaining about the whole point of the story, but there's a reason why most stories don't do this-a character who's alive is usually more interesting than a character who's dead. They tend to "waste" characters.

    The characters are generally well-written as far as personality goes. I honestly feel like these are people I'd run into in a zombie apocalypse. In fact, Kenny and Mark remind me of people I know. I feel like Christa and Omid were entirely pointless, however.

    The Stranger was a great antagonist, though he's a bit too...I'm unsure how to put it...not-over-arching enough. He kind of just shows up. I think what they should have done was made it so some the things Ben does were caused by him or something. For example, if he had done something to cause the bandits to attack the protagonists, that'd be interesting (it would be something he'd want to do). The revelation that, in addition to the Zombie apocalypse there's some really clever asshole out there conspiring against you every step of the way would be interesting IMO.

    All-in-all the game's pretty good, despite not having the best focus it could and having a tendency to waste characters.